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USA, third-world country
Wednesday, August 03, 2005
This wonderful piece ran in today's New York Times.

August 3, 2005
Calling All Luddites

I've been thinking of running for high office on a one-issue platform: I promise, if elected, that within four years America will have cellphone service as good as Ghana's. If re-elected, I promise that in eight years America will have cellphone service as good as Japan's, provided Japan agrees not to forge ahead on wireless technology. My campaign bumper sticker: "Can You Hear Me Now?"

I began thinking about this after watching the Japanese use cellphones and laptops to get on the Internet from speeding bullet trains and subways deep underground. But the last straw was when I couldn't get cellphone service while visiting I.B.M.'s headquarters in Armonk, N.Y.

But don't worry - Congress is on the case. It dropped everything last week to pass a bill to protect gun makers from shooting victims' lawsuits. The fact that the U.S. has fallen to 16th in the world in broadband connectivity aroused no interest. Look, I don't even like cellphones, but this is not about gadgets. The world is moving to an Internet-based platform for commerce, education, innovation and entertainment. Wealth and productivity will go to those countries or companies that get more of their innovators, educators, students, workers and suppliers connected to this platform via computers, phones and P.D.A.'s.

A new generation of politicians is waking up to this issue. For instance, Andrew Rasiej is running in New York City's Democratic primary for public advocate on a platform calling for wireless (Wi-Fi) and cellphone Internet access from every home, business and school in the city. If, God forbid, a London-like attack happens in a New York subway, don't trying calling 911. Your phone won't work down there. No wireless infrastructure. This ain't Tokyo, pal.


"One elected official by himself can't solve the problems of eight million people," Mr. Rasiej argued, "but eight million people networked together can solve one city's problems. They can spot and offer solutions better and faster than any bureaucrat. ... The party that stakes out this new frontier will be the majority party in the 21st century. And the Democrats better understand something - their base right now is the most disconnected from the network."

Can you hear me now?

We Americans are so smug...until we are directly exposed to the infrastructure and moxie of other countries. Today's paper also featured a back-to-school Circuits section that described the nefarious, byzantine pricing schemes of cell phone carriers. Dealing with these companies is like talking with a loan shark.

On the bright side, it was encouraging to read that teachers are trying to help students keep sight of substance rather instead of pouring more energy into form; second-graders are using PowerPoint.

Fourth-graders are producing weekly podcasts. This is healthy. If the school system refuses to break down the barriers that block out learning in the greater community, perhaps the kids will be able to route around it. As the Cluetrain Manifesto tells us, networks subvert hierarchy. Wouldn't it be great if the kids start making progress in spite of the system? Maybe the two-way web will grease the skids.

A Skype foreign language lab where you talk with people in their native language: that's a laudable concept.

Finally, on testing, it occurs to me that just as the map is not the territory, the test is not the knowledge.


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